Blue sky. Temperatures in the 60’s. A spring breeze which wafts the scent of blooming flowers.
Insects are out, including butterflies, their wings looking like stained glass windows, the sun glistening colors through them
Pinxster azaleas blooming on both sides of the creek, the landscape punctuated by white blackberry blossoms , fringe trees and swamp dogwoods. Rusty blackhaws, high above, blooming white clusters as large as my fist; dots of orange cross vines and American wisteria above.
Natural perfume, spring palate of colors, breeze caresses — all’s well with the world.
Granted, this was the first sprig of bloom. Many of the trees just had an inkling of light green tips, but with several days of 70 degree temperatures, the Ogeche tupelos will be ready for the bees.
And hopefully, they will show.
Within a few miles of the creek are a bank of bee hives. In the last two years the blooms were sparse, but so were the bees. This year, the bees are on the blackberries and hopefully the tupelos will bloom soon so the bees can move on to these flowers. Tupelo honey is one of the area’s best agricultural products and they’re getting harder and harder to find.
Tupelo honey never sugars, but increasingly we’ve paid premium prices for tupelo honey (as gifts) only to find the recipient telling us that it sugars.
We like tupelo honey, but at the current price, our friends get it, not us.
On Womack creek, ogeche tupelo trees are the last to leaf and the last to bloom. To us its a sign that’s a sure sign of spring.
Tate’s Hell State Forest is a watershed; swamps are to be expected.
You may not think of visiting the northern border, with FR 22 separating the state forest on the south from the Apalachicola National Forest to the north, as a place to look for carnivorous plants. This is not on the wild flower trail which offers stupendous blooms off SR 65. It is over 8 miles east of Sumatra on a sandy forest road.
It was a wet non-winter and early spring and a section close to the New River is blooming right now.
Yellow pitcher plants will first catch your eye.
If you stop to examine the area, you will also see, Burke’s southern pitcher plants.
The full face of the flower is shown on the opening of this post.
Some are still in bud.
Pink sundews are all over the ground — hard not to step on them.
And interspersed are Zigzag bladderworts.
Also bunches of flattened pipewort.
They look like nature’s pincushions (like phone books, not a contemporary common reference.)
Bog club mosses can be found in the Apalachicola National Forest where the ground is perennuially wet, but they were in Tate’s Hell SF, also.
Looks like a green centipede.
Among all of that, the white bog violets are still blooming. These have thinner, longer leaves. There are more on the western section of Tate’s Hell SF than the eastern sections which has the white primrose leafed white violets.
Nearby, in small clumps, but noticeable because of their golden color, are Savannah sneezeweed.
At the New River one will see mayberry and high bush blueberries beginning to fruit.
And Atlantic White Cypress (cedar) fruiting.
Flatwoods St. John’s wort are still blooming.
And with the warmth, dragon flies appear — this one a blue corporal.
These are flowers which were in bloom on April 11, 2018 on Womack Creek. The American wisteria has a much thicker cluster of blooms and it does not invade the forests as do the exotic Japanese wisteria. There are three locations with wisteria vines, but only one of these were seen blooming. The bloom period is short-lived when the temperatures are in the high 70’s and low 80’s.
Blue flag iris plants can be seen throughout the creek, but are not prolific bloomers, unlike the Crooked River, which connects the Ochlockonee River on the east and the Carrabelle River on the west in Tate’s Hell State Forest. Whole stands of them bloom along the Crooked River.
One of the most eye-catching flowers are on the narrowleaf primrose plant. Here shown with Virginia sweetspire.
Cowcreek spider lilies will be in full bloom within two weeks. The frame on the right shows a mass of buds and one flowering spider lily.
On Womack Creek landing you will see star grass and the pineland pimpernell, both are small flowered plants and may escape your notice, but look down and you will see them.
One bush of swamp roses on the upper left branch leading to Nick’s Road campsite are beginning to bloom and spreads its fragrance before you see the roses.
In the water, spatterdock buds are opening up.
In about two weeks expect to see swamp titi, southern arrow wood, ogeche tupelos and muscadine flowers. By early May, perseus bay and sweet bay will add a heavy fragrance to the creek.
At its peak now are swamp dogwood, swamp sweetbells, Virginia sweetspire, False indigo, candy root (at both landings) and butterweed.
The rusty haw, pinxster azaleas and fringe tree blossoms will not last in high 70 temperatures. The cross vines may be at their end of bloom, also.
There are no exotic plants on Womack creek, unusual in Florida waterways.
As a local who appreciates the outdoors, natural areas such as Blackwater River State Forest are a welcome diversion from modern life. A peaceful hike along a trail or a laid back float trip down one of the rivers that run through it settles the mind into a quiet state of reflection. As the human experience slows, the mind opens to notice more: a green lynx spider with a bee in its web, a white-tailed deer track, an endangered pitcher plant.
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Even with a natural eye, on a field trip to Blackwater River State Forest with the Florida Master Naturalist program, I was able to come to appreciate even more about what we have right here in the Florida panhandle. As we walked through the thigh-high wiregrass surrounded by pine trees and sparkleberry bushes, our group came to stop under a tall pine speciman and learned that it was a long leaf pine, a species of pine that inhabits less than 6% of its original range due to exploitation by the logging industry in the early 1900’s and from attacks by the southern pine beetle. It is the key tree species in a complex of fire dependent ecosystems in the southeastern United States and plays a vital role in the survival of numerous species of wildlife, such as the endangered red cockaded woodpecker.
The red cockaded woodpecker only makes its cavity nest in old-growth long leaf pines that are at least 80-100 years old. Our guide, who works extensively with the red cockaded woodpecker, set up a long pole with a video camera on the end and guided it up the tree to a small, nearly imperceptible hole. Our group crowded around to get a glimpse of the woodpeckers, but instead got to see a southern flying squirrel who had taken up residence in the cavity, proving once again that a seemingly simple thing like a tree can help many things.
We moved on from the tree and carefully explored a small pitcher plant bog at the bottom of the slope where I was able to spot a small collection of white-top and parrot pitcher plants, as well as several small sundews. The pitcher plant population in the United States is less than 3% of its original size due to habitat loss, a fact that wasn’t lost on me as I watched an impossibly tiny frog hop beneath a blade of grass in search of food. The more we looked, the more interesting things we found: wildflowers, dragon flies, archaeological remnants from the turpentine era.
We loaded back into the vehicles and headed to an ephemeral pond which is an area that has both wet and dry periods throughout the year and is important for breeding amphibians. Although dry at the time of our visit, we were once again treated to the sight of unique plants and flowers that grow only in these temporary wetlands. Almost as temporary as our afternoon outing that was winding down.
Although not my first visit to Blackwater River State Forest, it was one that provided greater insights about the importance of protecting our natural areas, both for ourselves and our environment. Now, whenever I return, I will walk the trails and float the rivers with hopes of seeing even more hidden treasures.
The creek’s white flowers are at their peak bloom or beginning to bloom: swamp sweet bells, swamp dogwood, Virginia Sweetspire, Fringe Tree, Blackberry blossoms, Yaupon, Rusty Haw and an yet to be identified flowering ground cover.
Yellow flowers, not to be missed are butterweed, located in large patches behind the immediate shoreline, candy root and a yet to be identified flower both at Nick’s Road campsite and just beginning to open, spatterdocks.
The first swamp rose is blooming — hard to say yet whether this will be a good year for these roses. There were just a few blooms on the many rose bushes throughout the creek.
But this year is definitely the year of the pinxster azaleas and the orange cross vines. These vines are blooming profusely throughout the 3.75 mile stretch from the Womack Creek campground landing to Nick’s Road campsite.
And, if you can see those shiny purple balls of sweet-tart berries — blueberries are beginning to ripen. A few now, but more to come.
Certain blooms have short duration of blooms — take parsley haw. We saw them all over the creek, just starting to bloom — more buds than fully opened blooms. Eighteen days later, not a single bloom was seen. We had missed the peak blooming period for this short tree.
Normally swamp jessamine have a longer duration of bloom — the vines take these blooms high up and wherever there is a spot of sun. They were blooming when we last visited the creek — none to be seen.
And blueberry blooms, early bloomer along with the Walter’s viburnum — both are going to seed.
This is just the beginning of spring blooming season and expect to see poison ivy, swamp sweetbells, Virginia sweetspire, swamp dogwood, spatterdock. In the trees, in the water, and on high bushes and low — many levels of blooms can be expected soon.’